Pregnancy can be many things. It can be a shock, a planned event, a burden or a blessing. But is it harm? Dr. Rory Kraft penned a column at the Huffington Post calling for society to recognize pregnancy as harm to women. His conclusions offer a clarion call for society to acknowledge the impact of pregnancy and to support women as they make this life transition. He states:
We all need to be aware of the special vulnerabilities of the pregnant — not only in the physical sense of encouraging pregnant women from refraining from sky diving or riding roller coasters, or recognizing a woman’s need by giving up of a seat on public transportation, but also in the emotional and intellectual sense of recognizing the othering that is occurring. As we focus more on the various aspects of life that are changed by pregnancy, we should come to an understanding of the vulnerabilities of the woman and act on a social responsibility to address these vulnerabilities exposed by the harm of pregnancy.
Dr. Kraft and I are on the same page as far as his conclusions go. We have a social responsibility to support pregnant women, but where do his ideas concerning pregnancy as harm come from? In the professor’s case, case law. In the full version of the article, Dr. Kraft explores case law establishing a precedent where pregnancy was considered an injury when rape victims were impregnated by the aggressors. In the full-length version of the article, Kraft transitions from case law to the Western medical literature. Here he presents a dire picture of women and the dangers of pregnancy, not excluding the normal physiological changes that alter physical functions. He uses this view of pregnancy as harm to make a case for a societal obligation to assist pregnant women.
Dr. Kraft isn’t solely culpable for Western medicine’s depiction of pregnancy. Western medicine has taken great pains to paint a picture of pregnancy as a harmful, treacherous, diseased condition. This practice started in the early 1900′s as doctors in the US worked to woo women from the care of midwives. By depicting pregnancy as a process that was harmful and unnatural, Western medicine has and continues to line their coffers with money from unnecessary and damaging interventions, most of which have not been proven to provide any benefits for mother or baby. A few examples include episiotomies, inductions, electronic fetal monitoring, and repeat caesarean sections.
As women begin to take back their pregnancy and birthing experiences, the view of pregnancy as harm will fall to the wayside. This has already begun as the rates of natural births, homebirths, and the use of midwives continue to increase. The midwifery model of care recognizes pregnancy and childbirth as a natural process. These pregnancy and birthing practices have consistently been proven to be safer for mother and child, and they are more cost-effective. The World Health Organization provide evidence that the midwifery model of care results in lower lower infection rates, lower C-section rates, fewer complications and healthier outcomes.
Returning to Dr. Kraft’s final conclusions, he contends that by viewing pregnancy as harm the social obligation to mitigate the effects of the harm shifts from voluntary to involuntary. We must protect pregnant women. They are being harmed! Yes, society has a social responsibility to support pregnant women, but it isn’t because they are in a continuous state of harm, and, thus, vulnerable. It is because pregnant women are humans with rights and needs. This means that women’s rights should not be violated and their needs ought to be met. This includes reproductive choice from abortion through the ways in which women give birth, as well as pre-natal and post-natal support.
Sadly, these rights are heavily regulated at the state and federal level, and these benefits are largely non-existent. To this end, the US lags behind every other industrialized nation in the world in implementing social policy that benefits women throughout pregnancy and during a child’s first years. This includes a lack of prenatal care, maternity leave, and child care, to just name a few. If you want to mitigate harm to pregnant women, deregulate women’s choices in pregnancy and childbirth and implement policies that support growing families.
Viewing pregnant women as vulnerable, weak and in a state of harm is an affront to women’s strength and robs women of their agency throughout their pregnancy. Pregnancy is a natural process that women should be able to choose to undertake at a point in their lives when they feel ready to do so. Pregnancy, childbirth and childcare should be viewed as a public good. We have a social responsibility to support women and caregivers because their work contributes to our quality of life, and the benefits are universal. Not because they are being harmed.